Those not on the social platform Twitter will have missed the enlightening conversations happening around neurodiverse authors and their writing being policed. I say this knowing full well that I myself have struggled with the idea of what it is to be an ND author.
That writing our own unique story telling voices are breaking traditional rules of writing. I want to address the specifics of what I’ve uncovered in my battle to separate my ND voice from poor writing, and I hope if you are ND that you can see those in your own writing.
A lot of the comments I get on overall beta and dev editing in characters that have a lot of myself in them is this; your character needs more agency. I’ve begun seeing other ND authors struggling with the same thing.
What is agency?
Agency is defined as a proactive protagonist. The ability to make decisions and act on them, rather than let the story happen to the character.
Why is this a problem for ND authors?
Because we are so often in the wrong, we learn to sit back and wait. To let things happen, wait for information/outside events to dictate our actions. We mask ourselves, our thoughts and language, push the parts of us that are different down so hard, that when we come to self expression, which writing is all about… we write what we do.
Go back and look at other characters you weren’t so invested in, characters that weren’t the MC who were driving the plot for your character. I bet they have a lot of agency. See, our writing doesn’t lack agency, but our characters do because we’re waiting for all the information before we make an action, because this is how we behave in the real world.
How as an ND author do I get around it?
Write how your character feels/give them internal thoughts on what’s happening. I know it might be odd but if you explain your internal thoughts or reactions a bit more, but you can also have them participate non-verbally with actions too, even if that action is as small as fidgeting, tugging clothes, subtle ones designed to go unnoticed but display the feelings of the ND character. Even what action they’d like to take but why they didn’t take it.
We’re used to asking ourselves that age old question; what if we’re wrong?
You shouldn’t forget that nobody knows that’s what you might be asking yourself, the thoughts and doubts inside your own mind, and so having your character do it for you can be helpful.
There is a big difference between someone who is silent and someone who isn’t there because the writer is focused on pushing the plot along.
A comment I got during my CP rounds of my first ND script is: where is Islae in this scene. Characters can often be quiet, thoughtless, a piece of background furniture, much like an ND person can feel, as described above.
Here is where I want to differentiate from the first point; I have a lot of thoughts on many subjects. ND’s but those with Aspergers like myself will be aware of the hamster wheel of info and processing that goes on behind the scenes, but that doesn’t make good reading text. So I drop in what would actually go through my mind I write what I’d like the character to say but doesn’t because they dont feel their opinions are valid, or they make an opinion and question it because they dont have all the info. If they have all the info then even the occasional text block of reaction/thoughts, and then edit the garbage words out in order to streamline it as much as possible to be friendlier to NT audiences.
I often go to say something, and someone will change the conversation so I remain silent. I have a perpetual need to finish a story/anecdote I was telling, or to pass along an experience or piece of information. These are very awkward moments socially, but while it can be triggering (and is, please know fellow NDs I got very triggered writing my ND self into my books doing this), it does demonstrate your character’s presence, and add to agency.
- Visual scenes
A poor writer will often under or over describe a backdrop.
An ND writer will often block out an overwhelming backdrop/over analyze an interesting scene.
How do you balance the two different experiences out? I will often get an image from pintrest that’s similar to what I want, and use it as a base template, so that I can better picture this for my reader.
Alternatively, I’ll use the read aloud function to work out where I’ve been overly repetitive in my language/thoughts on a scene, and cut those out to better streamline the writing.
Also keep in mind this is a general writing thing; readers can and will automatically “paint” a scene as long as you give them a template to work from. The ticking clock in a library, the scent of incense in a temple, the harsh lights of the doctor’s office; remember the other senses you may purposefully shut out because it can be triggering might be good props not only to describe scenes, but also to demonstrate what its like to be triggered by these things for NT readers.
You are sharing more than your story, you are sharing your experience as an ND. If these things make you too uncomfortable don’t do them. I can’t dictate what you do and don’t write, I can only give you the examples I’ve used myself, whilst informing you that these can be triggering too.
This one is a doozy.
I can copy edit fine, beta other peoples work no problem.
I fucking hate dev edits.
It will take me months to fix dev edits. And part of it is that its dev edits, but the BIG part of it is that someone has effectively said; you missed this spot here.
When we take pride in our true selves, our attention to detail, we’re presenting our work for someone else to review, and the last thing we want to be told now that we’ve put ourselves out there is that we did something wrong.
I don’t know, but I think we can feel those comments, like negative reviews, more keenly because we’re more sensitive to negativity. I always went to extraordinary lengths when beta reading to soften my comments but be clear in why I was criticizing something, and you don’t always get betas or CPs who do that.
It is one of the harder lessons, along with taking good feed back, for an ND writer to acknowledge.
I often remind myself of it as such; when a beta/cp points out something, its because there was a mistake big enough they fell out of the story.
And we all make mistakes and can be corrected for consistency, smoothness, but above all, enjoy ability by the reader. We don’t want them to fall out of the story.
So take a deep breath and acknowledge you made a mistake, and move on, but when you are ready to do so, because sometimes if you force the issue you end up putting yourself in a lot of anxiety. There is a difference between mental processing time, and just procrastination.
I am resisting (like fighting against Darth Vadar levels of negativity) the thoughts wanting to call one of my best betas a liar.
She waxed on about how much she loved my ND books and the reasons why and she got really specific about it… because I was specific.
ND folk notice details, pay attention to things others don’t, have odd quirks and mannerisms that appear in our writing. The compliment in question was about a small facet of cleanliness that I was hyper aware of (but completely unknown to her was a red herring for future story stuff, hashtag not sorry).
We don’t always do it on purpose, but we do notice the details and its where our writing can stand out. I tend to focus a lot on what a character I’m attracted to is wearing, can be attracted to them because of what they are wearing. Stuff like that stays with me so I try to ensure it serves a purpose. For example, my ND character has conflicting emotions about a dress, not just because its sexy or makes her feel uncomfortable, but the material of the dress is actually soft and she likes it.
Look to your details, where you are being quite precise, and see if you can’t add why for the NT audience. demonstrating emotions through actions can be done a multitude of ways; fidgeting/stimming is a sign of nerves but it isn’t the only one. For example you could sweat, gaze dart, walk out of a room, queasy stomach. I can also recommend the Emotion Thesaurus to avoid cliché expressions.
Clearly defining the traits that make us the way we are might be misconstrued as eliminating my own perspective and voice. Erasing my identity from the pages in an effort to please neurotypicals. After being told all my life how to think, to be, to exist, I think I can do some telling back. I can tell you when I’m sad, angry, proud, or when I disagree. I am not changing my writing to conform to NT, I am explaining to an NT how an ND views the world, and there is nothing wrong with that.